Australia loves big things and many regional towns pay tribute to their local industry, agriculture, history and native fauna with giant outdoor sculptures.
‘Shire Promotional Grotesques’ is the official name for these supersized kitsch icons.
Australians call them ‘Big Things’.
Tourism academic Professor Johan Edelheim said a Big Thing was a reason to stop at a small town, stretch your legs, get some local produce and have a giggle at the humour of it.
We find them funny because they are carnivalesque and exaggerate something, he said. But over time, their charm fades and Big Things age quickly.
“They go from being fun to being camp to being an embarrassment for the local people,” he said.
The Big Banana was the first Big Thing, built in 1964 in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, as a promotional sign for a banana stall.
Now there are more than 150 Big Things in Australia. Some are famous. Some are not.
Here are some Big Things you may not have heard of.
1. The Big Root — seven metres wide
The Big Root is a seven-metre wide, four-metre tall eucalyptus tree root in Nowa Nowa, Victoria.
Its unique shape comes from growing on a limestone shelf. When the roots failed to penetrate the limestone, the roots grew across instead of going down, producing the elaborate root system.
It took the late Jack Ramsdell 12 months to polish the root with a dentistry drill to be fit for display.
The Big Root is housed in a purpose-built wooden pyramid behind a local cafe and is thought to be between 250 and 300 years old.
2. The Big Bin — unofficial world’s tallest bin
A concrete pipe stands upright in a quiet part of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
At eight metres high, it could be mistaken for another Big Thing — the Big Cigarette, formerly of Myrtleford, Victoria and now defunct.
The wire handles are a clue but it’s the handpainted letters by local school children that declare it as ‘The World’s Tallest Bin’.
Erected in 1980, the bin was the idea of the Keep Kalgoorlie Klean Kommittee to remind townspeople not to litter.
Its claim as the world’s tallest rubbish bin is not verified.
“I had a search of the Guinness Book of Records and there is no mention of our mighty bin,” local history and archives development officer at the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Tim Moore said.
“It’s just one of those things — a curio forgotten in time. Do we really want to be known as the town with the biggest rubbish bin?”
3. The Big Funnel Web — official world’s largest spider sculpture
One of the world’s deadliest spiders, the funnel web, is the inspiration for a Big Thing in Jamberoo, New South Wales.
A local water park built The Big Funnel Web in 2013 as part of a waterslide attraction. With a leg span of 22.2 metres, it is 420 times larger than the female Sydney funnel web spider on which it is modelled.
It holds the Guinness World Record for the Largest Spider Sculpture.
Travel blogger Barbara Bryan describes the spidery waterslide as “spitting its riders out into the most massive funnel before sucking the screaming occupants back into a tube.”
4. The Big Dead Fish — perched on a rooftop
On top of a hotel in south-east Victoria lies a big fish.
Fish Creek Hotel is home to the six-metre sculpture, created by artist Colin Suggett in 1989.
Known as The Big Dead Fish, it is actually a ‘stunned mullet’ explained hotelier Kevin Peavey.
Why is it on the hotel’s roof? It references ancient myths of fish raining from the sky, Mr Peavy said.
The Fish Creek community showed their affection for the Big Dead Fish when small businesses, residents and the arts group ‘rattled tins’ to raise money for its restoration in 2016.
5. The Big Peg — hung out to dry
While some Big Things are civic projects, others are a solo effort.
The Big Peg weighs in at 750 kilograms and stands in a paddock owned by the Stacey family in Canowindra, New South Wales.
Pete Stacey got the idea for the peg from a picture of a giant wooden peg in a field in Belgium, reported The Canowindra Phoenix.
“If people drive past and smile and have a giggle at the peg then my job has been done,” said Mr Stacey.
“If they keep driving and spend money in our town, then an extra bonus has been added.”
6. The Big Potato — cheap as chips?
The Big Potato is a 10-metre long, four-metre wide concrete sculpture in Robertson, New South Wales. Built in 1977 by a local farmer, it is hollow and you can walk inside.
Its nicknames include The Big Spud and The Big Turd.
The Big Potato went up for sale in December last year and is waiting for a buyer.
Real estate agent Steve Myers said there had been more interest in the block of land the potato sits on, than in the Big Potato itself.
7. The Big Meat Ant — footy team mascot
The centrepiece of a park in Augathella, Queensland, is a five-metre meat ant.
Created by Murweh Shire Council as a tourist attraction, it sits next to a playground and information boards about meat ants.
Former shire councillor Cecil Russell said the Big Meat Ant was inspired by the local footy team.
“We used to have a maroon jersey and blue shorts, baby blue shorts, and that’s basically the colour of a meat ant, if you look at his body.”
“And it just got a bit of a slogan, something they used to sing out: ‘Come on meat ants! Come on meat ants!'”
Local residents and tourists alike speak affectionately of the ant.
“We have been to visit firstly in 2012 and a few times since then. It is brilliant!!” Linda Gibson said.
The Big Meat Ant has yet to pull a huge crowd, but Augathella waits in anticipation.
8. The Big Headphones — plugging local musicians
Darby Street in Newcastle is known as ‘the place to play’, thanks to the Big Headphones.
Officially named The Headphone Project, the set of headphones doubles as an outdoor PA system and gig space.
Local business owner Kevin Coffey said musicians “plug into the system and play through the headphone speakers” creating an instant sound system on the street.
Completed in 2015, the Big Headphones are maintained by volunteers. If you’re walking by, you can connect wirelessly to a playlist of local music.
9. The Big Bulls — mustering a makeover
Six large bulls dotted along Rockhampton’s main streets have been the source of debate over the years. In 2013, there were calls for the bull statues to be rounded up off the streets, and as far back as most locals can remember, there have been issues with the repeated theft of the bulls’ testicles.
Rockhampton Regional Council will spend $15,000 sprucing up the bulls in time for the city’s Beef Australia 2018 expo in May.
Given the history of the bulls’ testicles, commissioned artist Bill Gannon said it was important to make them as lifelike as possible.
“We coloured them [the testicles] this time,” he said.
“Last time, this very one we are at was done in a dark black, but looking at references, there’s deep browns and reds so we’ve tried to highlight those realities.”
10. The Big Blue Horse — spurring controversy
The Big Blue Horse is the first new Big Thing out of the gates for 2018.
The 2.2-metre sculpture by Tasmanian artist Nick Adams is in the Hunter Valley town of Scone, New South Wales.
In January, the Upper Hunter Shire Council bought the artwork. Council hopes the Big Blue Horse becomes a tourist attraction that reflects Scone’s branding as the ‘Horse Capital of Australia’, said Upper Hunter mayor Wayne Bedggood.
The reaction on social media is varied.
Some are skeptical, like Clinton Roser who said, “Does this now mean Merriwa will get a blue sheep, Aberdeen a blue tiger?”
“If we are talking about tourism, how about all the towns in the area, not just Scone? As for Murrurundi, we would even take blue water.”
Some are enthusiastic, like Linda Drummond who said, “How do you put a price on public art?”
“But if you do, I think $15,000 is a bargain. It’s something all residents and tourists can benefit from. And I think it’s pretty gorgeous. I’ll trek up to Scone to check it out.”
11. The Big Snail — on the trail
The tiny coastal town of Bremer Bay, Western Australia, has created Australia’s first native snail trail and the first giant snail.
At 10,000 times the size of an actual snail, the Big Snail was made by artist Peter Hill and installed in late January 2018.
The common and prolific native snail deserves some spotlight, said project coordinator Nathan McQuoid.
He said it was not a villain in crops and gardens like other snails could be.
“They are a really important part of nature. In a harsh environment, they break down vegetation to make it available for plants. Further up the chain, they provide a food source for other animals.”
The snail trail is set to officially open in March and includes the Big Snail, interpretive signs and, of course, thousands of native snails.
A big future?
The desire for Australian towns and individuals to make Big Things has continued since the 1970s.
And with the creation of two Big Things already this year, there could be more on the horizon.